Teamphoto at the Gym

I’m not sure when the ‘Turnhalle’ or ‘German Gymnasium’ at the back of Kings Cross lost its national epithet. The building itself has received a considerable makeover during the recent and continuing rebuilding of the area, looking as clean and shiny as it doubtless did in 1864-5 when it was built, and its fine brickwork and interior roof beams, although it has unfortunately lost its former entrance building. The German Gymnasium has hosted varied events over the years, from the first London Olympics in 1866 to more recent fetish events, but it is simply as the Gymnasium that it makes a fine venue for Brian Griffin’s latest show, ‘Teamphoto’, on a somewhat temporary looking first floor in this large hall.

Brian Griffin in an interesting jacket at the opening

Griffin was commissioned to produce a series of pictures to mark the building (at last) of a high speed rail line to link the Channel Tunnel with London, which unfortunately for those of us in the south and west, serves a rebuilt St Pancras station, and will significantly increase my journey times to Paris. Ah progress!

Working with art director Greg Horton, he concentrated on the team of people who worked on the line, described as Britain’s largest construction project (the Channel tunnel to which it links, was officially described as “many years of boring activity”.)

One of the more interesting aspects of the evening was that many of those portrayed in the images were present in person at the special preview, and I was intrigued both to eavesdrop on their comments – and in particular those of their friends – as well as to compare the person with the image that Griffin had created.

Two of the workers with portraits of them by Brian Griffin

The pictures fell into three major groups – workers, bosses and groups – with a few others. The images of the workers were mainly powerful black and white ‘studio’ portraits, heads taken against a plain background, sharp, detailed and contrasty, showing every pore and every blade of stubble with perfect clarity. They reminded me strongly of Helmar Lerski’s portraits of industrial workers and others published in his ‘Kopfe des Alltags’ (1930), glorifying the everyday faces in strong close-up, and of the images of workers as heroes in Soviet Socialist Realism, mythic stakhanovites.

If Griffin’s workers are heroes, the bosses and managers often seem lost, dejected, ill at ease or just downright shifty. The colour images often look like the odd random scenes from old films you might come across flipping through the channels on a hotel TV and quickly move on in hope – usually forlorn – of something better. I overheard one man ask a colleague if he had seen his portrait yet, and he continued that they had thought of sticking up a post-it on the frame with the caption “Someone’s stolen my fxxking car

I found many of these fascinating studies, generally more so than the black and white workers, powerful though some of these are. There were a few that were clearly following a storyboard (the post woman delivers a copy of the 1996 Act of Parliament for the line to a man in a suburban yard in America), others where I could identify a clear reference (one of my favourite images in the show is a Hopperesque tableau set in a hotel lobby, the subject at the counter, a head just visible on the other side and a third man in the open lift, all captured in a light that somehow curiously drains away much of the colour of the scene) but others that just left me guessing. Odd corners of sites, car parks, rather anonymous spaces that were perhaps convenient to where the person was working.

The groups are Frans Hals oils , perhaps the Cluveniers and I think a style that has often been used in advertising. Griffin’s examples are lively but to me have less interest than the other work in the show. Some of the images that don’t fit into the main three categories also intrigued me; a straight forward image of a driver and another man on a construction train, and my other favourite image in the show, a black and white of a man in an office viewed through a venetian blind, which reminded me of the best of Griffin’s portraiture for ‘Management Today’ that established his reputation.

Of course, openings are only partly about the pictures, and it was good to meet the photographers and others present, including in particular Paul Trevor, back from Spain on a visit connected with his forthcoming London Photo Month show, here talking to BJP editor Simon Bainbridge.

Teamphoto continues at the Gymnasium, St Pancras, NW1 until Nov 19, 2007.

Brian Griffin’s web site

One Response to “Teamphoto at the Gym”

  1. flops says:

    Wonderful to read such an intelligent review of this show, so poignant. Flopsx

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